Welsh Government cuts to its flagship apprenticeship programme will result in 49 per cent fewer apprentices in Wales in the next year – and even worse news is on the way, warns an organisation representing more than 100 work-based learning providers across the nation.
A detailed study undertaken by the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW) reveals:
- * 8,857 (49%) less apprenticeship opportunities for the period August 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015, compared with the same period last year.
- * 3,527 (32%) less opportunities in the Welsh Government’s “priority areas” of 16-24-year-old learners and Higher Apprenticeships.
- * 5,330 (77%) less opportunities in the “non-priority area” of learners aged 25 and over.
- * £10.7 million (16%) has been slashed from the Apprenticeship budget for the period August 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015, compared with the same period last year.
Twenty-two commissioned contract holders currently deliver work-based learning programmes for the Welsh Government through a network of 114 organisations. Each of these contract holders was consulted during the NTfW’s detailed research to ensure accuracy.
The total apprenticeship budget allocated for the period August 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015 is £56.1 million, of which £42.7 million (76%) is needed to service apprentices already ‘in learning.’
“With only £13.3 million (24%) of the apprenticeship budget available for new starts, this will have a significant impact on the provider network to offer opportunities to employers and individuals, including those who are looking for a progression route from other Welsh Government programmes, such as Jobs Growth Wales and Traineeships,” explained the NTfW’s operations manager, Jeff Protheroe.
“When you see the figures in black and white the only word to describe them is stark – 9,000 less apprentices than last year. Our members have been left scratching their heads because there was no slack in the apprenticeship programme to cut. It appears the government has received some bad advice.”
Rather than a £7 million cut, the NTfW’s study reveals a reduction of £10.7 million compared to the same period last year.
The NTfW, which has links to 35,000 employers across Wales, has also been informed that the Welsh Government is planning a further £20 million cut in apprenticeship programmes in March. And its members are reporting cuts in funding for the successful Jobs Growth Wales programme, which will reduce employment opportunities.
The stark figures fly in the face of repeated statements by the Welsh Government about its “gold standard” apprenticeship programme – its 86% success rate the envy of other UK countries.
More than a month after the Welsh Government announced the initial £7 million cut in its Apprenticeship and Young Recruits Programmes, the NTfW is still awaiting an explanation. Learning providers across Wales have been left high and dry to deal with enquiries about the programmes from concerned employers, learners and parents without having the information they need.
The NTfW is seeking an urgent meeting with newly appointed Deputy Minister for Skills and Technology Julie James – who took over from Ken Skates in last week’s cabinet reshuffle – and is calling on the Welsh Government to reverse the cuts by reprioritising apprenticeships.
“We would welcome an open and honest conversation with the new Deputy Minister to establish why it was felt cuts to highly successful work-based learning programmes were merited,” said Mr Protheroe. “We urgently need transparency from the Welsh Government.
“We have noticed that the Education Minister wrote to all the Welsh councils outlining the cuts that were being made to school budgets, yet we have received no such communication.
“There is a feeling that the Welsh Government is taking learning providers for granted because it knows that the network has consistently delivered excellent results and responded to the needs of the Welsh Government over the past decade.”
The NTfW has warned that the cuts risk destabilising the training network, alienating learners and employers and undermining all the good work done by learning providers over the past decade.
Grave fears have been expressed that some young people on existing Jobs Growth Wales, Apprenticeship and Traineeship Programmes will be unable to progress their learning pathway because funding has run out.
“The irony of the situation is that the budget cuts coincide with a national media campaign by the Welsh Government promoting apprenticeships,” said Mr Protheroe. “Having created the demand for apprenticeships, the Welsh Government is now unable to fulfil it.
“We have spent so much time and effort engaging employers and learners and raising their expectations, yet now we have the rug pulled from under our feet and it’s going to be very difficult to regain their trust.
“As outlined in the recently launched Skills Implementation Plan, jobs and growth as well as equality and equity are a key performance measures. Why would we want to cut funding to apprenticeships, when they clearly deliver on both?”